Chances are you've either heard of Netflix's new series 13 Reasons Why, or your teen has expressed interest in watching it. An adaptation of a YA novel with the same name by Jay Asher, the series navigates the aftermath of high school student Hannah Baker's suicide. Before taking her own life, Hannah creates 13 cassette tapes, each one dedicated to a person who somehow played a part in her decision to commit suicide, causing guilt and paranoia between members of the selected group. The series covers a number of heavy topics, to say the least, so if you're the parent of a teen who has expressed interest in binge-watching the heartbreaking and brutally honest show, there are a few things you should know first.
Of course you know your child and what they can handle best, but the series is rated MA for a reason, as in addition to suicide, there are a number of other difficult topics touched upon such as sexual assault and rape, bullying, and depression. Because of this, we'd recommend teens 15 and older delving into the series. Although you may want to shield your teen from these heavy topics, they're the same age as the kids in the series, meaning they may have already been exposed to some of these more difficult issues in one way or another at school or on social media.
So if your teen is interested in watching the series (or maybe they know nothing about it, but you'd like to watch it with them to open communication lines), here are a few things you should know - and a few reasons we support you in watching it with them - before you start binging.
- It opens the floor for some heavy conversations. You may not feel ready to talk to your child about suicide, sexual assault, and depression, but open communication and education about mental illness is so important in their high school years and the series provides an opening for you to discuss each issue before, during, and after you watch (and to note, Netflix warns you before a few of the more difficult episodes to let you know what's ahead).
- Although it will seem like the least of your worries considering the aforementioned topics, there's plenty of swearing. F*ck, sh*t, asshole . . . all of 'em.
- The emotional effects of the series may be hard to process. Whether your teen has first-hand experience with bullying, social anxieties, or depression or not, it's undeniable that the feelings this series provokes are strong and lasting. Your teen may feel particularly emotional upon viewing, more so with each episode, so encourage open communication about their feelings along the way.
- The bullying is sometimes subtle, sometimes over-the-top. When talking to your teen about bullying and cyberbullying in reference to the series, it's important to note that sometimes the events Hannah references as bullying are subtle, but clearly had lasting effects on her. Discuss with your teen the power of their words and actions, as well as what it means to be the type of person who stands up for themselves and their friends against bullies.
- Hannah seems to take pleasure in the guilt her tapes would cause. Although each person on the tapes was in the wrong in Hannah's opinion, she makes it clear in her recordings that the reason she made them to be heard after it was too late to save her was to make everyone feel guilty for what they'd done. It's important to discuss with your teen why reciprocation and revenge when it comes to bullying can in and of itself be considered bullying.
- Sexual assault isn't just implied; you see it. From a classmate of Hannah's feeling free to grab her behind in a corner store to multiple instances of rape, the series doesn't hold back. Is it uncomfortable to see? Yes. Is it extremely important and powerful? Absolutely.
- Hannah's suicide is ultimately shown. We don't want to spoil anything for you, but the last episode does show Hannah's suicide. How she does it, where she does it, and everything in between. It is extremely graphic, impossibly difficult to watch, and emotionally heavy.
If, after watching and discussing the series, you find your teen knows someone who may be depressed or having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for information and resources.